A top procurement meeting of Turkey's government and military leaders Jan. 7 produced several critical decisions, but officials and analysts agree a move to further efforts to build the country's first indigenous fighter aircraft was most important.
Turkey's Defense Industry Executive Committee (SSIK) gathered last week — its first meeting chaired by Ahmet Davutoglu, who became prime minister in August.
Other members are Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Chief of Military General Staff Gen. Ncdet Ozel and chief procurement official, Ismail Demir, head of the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).
Turkey's top procurement panel decided to place an order for four more F-35 fighter jets and five more CH-47F Chinook heavy transport helicopters.
The move increases Turkey's official orders as part of the multinational Joint Strike Fighter program to six so far. Turkey plans to buy 100 F-35s.
"The new order for the F-35 had been widely expected and it came as no surprise. This just confirms Turkey's commitment to the JSF program," an official familiar with the program said.
SSM said that the move to buy five Chinooks would be a follow-on order to a previous deal involving six helicopters.
A procurement official said the original contract for the Chinooks involved the purchase of six plus four platforms. "We have revised the option for four to five in line with the military's requirements," he said.
At the Jan. 7 meeting, SSIK also decided to move on to the "pre-design" phase in Turkey's bid to design, develop and produce an indigenous fighter jet.
Davutoglu told reporters after the meeting that a twin-engine model would be pursued in the national fighter aircraft program.
Davutoglu also said Turkey would continue to negotiate with all three bidders in a disputed program to build the country's first long-range air and anti-missile defense system.
In September 2013, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. for a $3.44 billion offer. But after increased pressure from its NATO allies, parallel talks opened with the second- and third-comers in the bidding, Europe's Eurosam and US-based Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, respectively. Davutoglu said talks with all three bidders would cover an extended period of six months.
"I think the most important of all decisions announced is to move ahead with the fighter program," a senior procurement official said. "The decision on the program means that we will be switching from the feasibility phase to pre-design phase. In other words, this is an official mark that says the program has been found technically and financially feasible."
An Ankara-based defense analyst agreed: "The government has now revealed its roadmap in the fighter program. Turkey clearly wants to make a 100 percent local aircraft. This rules out any deal with a foreign manufacturer based on a foreign model. In other words, 'Turkifying' a foreign aircraft is no longer an option."
An aerospace expert said Turkey would take "technological support" from foreign manufacturers for its fighter program, but will go for a totally local model.
"This is the most critical decision since the start of the program [that Turkey has decided to go for a local model]. Any foreign player keen to take part in the Turkish program would now have to offer solutions based on technological support at every level, instead of offering its own jet model," he said.